Poetic Bloomings asked for a poem about traditions; the Sunday Whirl tossed this motley group of words at us: amorous, subtle, genuflect, precipice, inkling, vanilla, mission, December, laden, bark, crusted, trivet. A retelling of the kind of family dust-up that eventually goes from legend to a smile, this is dedicated to the memory of my former mother-in-law, Hanna Weinberger; and in honor of her husband, Len, and Rob and his fantastic second wife, Donna. Peace and twinkly lights, Amy (P.S. Lex and I also light a menorah to this day, in Riley’s honor.)

Christmas Tree With a Schmear

“Will I have to genuflect to it?” she grimaced.
An inking of the controversy to come, December of ’86.
My mission, to host my husband’s folks and to
decorate our Christmas tree. No big deal, right?

Intermarriage: He, a Jew; I, a pseudo-Christian.
(His faith only observed when his mom set
the Passover table, lit by silver candlesticks,
laden with luscious food on fancy trivets.)

But every year, my vanilla faith called for a tree.
My Episcopalian upbringing had brought me to this:
On Christmas Eve I’d sneak into church;
in the spring we watched “Easter Parade” on TV.

Interfaith civil wedding: A generic Man of God
found in the yellow pages; a hoopah in our living room
(no rabbi or minister without promises of Hebrew or
Sunday school… not ready to even have kids!).

We lugged home the best (cheapest) tree in Queens;
its bark shredded during trunk-shoving, leaking
pestilent, resinous sap. My allergic splotches
crusted over just in time for The Big Party.

Mom was less than amorous about the whole affair.
She felt her shiksa daughter-in-law had exposed a subtle agenda:
Trying to make her son revere a tree that (apparently)
was a symbol of Jesus on the cross. With tinsel and lights.

They entered with trepidation; this was a precipice in our
relationship. I had gone to every Seder, Hanukkah… and
my husband loved having a tree (the pagan aspect, too).
Within ten minutes, we had gravitated to places of safety:

Mom, smoking a cigarette, looking at the wall, peeking
out of the corner of her eye in downright disgust. Wife
telling stories of each ornament; husband happy, stringing lights.
Dad, singing along with a Crosby record, “White Christmas.”

Ain’t compromise a wonderful thing?

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil